Friday 8 July 2016

Food and BBC bias

Catching up with remembrances of things past, the most biased thing I heard last Sunday was Radio 4's The Food Programme

I made brief notes on how biased it was at the time (which you'll be able to read for yourselves shortly). Subsequently the version available on the iPlayer gained an extra three minutes and an extra voice. And now there's a podcast version with yet another voice.

Why does that matter? Because both of those extra voices only added to the frankly astonishing chorus of wailing and gnashing of teeth about Brexit which dominated the programme's original incarnation on the iPlayer. 

My notes began by noting presenter Dan Saladino's recurring question, "How has your week been?" whilst commenting on the minor key music used throughout the programme (usually a giveaway). 

I then noted down Dan's introductory statement:
I can't promise you a huge amount of joy but I think there's at least one laugh tucked away in the programme, and I think we found a way of ending on a positive note.
That sentence is actually quite accurate, though the programme wasn't just overwhelming lacking in 'joy', it actually turned out to be overwhelmingly brimming with heavy gloom. And there was indeed just one laugh. And, yes, it ended on a positive note - if, that is, you're a fan of "progressive food movements". (Seriously!)

My notes (on Sunday) read as follows, verbatim. (They may be a bit hard to follow but I'm sure you'll get the drift):
1 - IAN WRIGHT, Food and Drink Federation, "a stressful week", "sombre", "shock" - prices went up.
2 - DAVID THOMSON, Scottish Food and Drink Federation, "confusion," "anxiety" for distillers, praise for EU membership.
(2a - short clip of Scottish fisherman, for Leave. Happy.)
3 - JULIA GLOTZ, The Grocer - worry, high prices, emotional. Bakery manufacturer with "absolute despair" story.
4 - BECKY ROTHWELL, Magic Rock (small brewery) - after Brexit, higher costs. Not happy.
5 - ULLTUD DUNSFORD, West Wales, pig farmer (Charcuterie Ltd) - "disappointed" by Leave vote. EU benefited his area over poverty. His EU funding helped his business too.
6 - Prof TIM LANG, UCL researcher - "a bad week" - "deeply troubling time" - "the enormity of it" - tearing his hair out - "a fragile situation" - criticises Leave voters. Famine about to stalk the land? By far the longest interview. Dan puts R4 listener question to him, independent expert status. Nearing the end of the programme.
7 - TIM WORSTALL, Adam Smith Institute, ("Farage", "free market", says Dan) - "a good week". Unilateral free trade or New Zealand model. A free market future without subsidies. (Scary for Radio 4 listeners?) 
8 - DAVE HARRISON, Beef and Lamb NZ - 1980s subsidy system ended. Really difficult time. 70m sheep then. Now half that number, same amount of meat. Support for Tim W? (Brief contribution though - a minute at best).
9 - Prof TIM LANG (again), on food security. "We're now in tricky waters". 'Please say something positive', asks Dan. "Progressive food movements" on the rise replies Prof Lang.
The first thing I noted after listening to that programme on the iPlayer on Sunday afternoon was that the programme lasted 25 minutes and that just under 20 minutes of it had been given over to unrelenting doom-and-gloom-mongering about the effect of the Brexit vote with just over 5 minutes given over to those offering a positive take on our Brexit vote. 

Of course, those 5 minutes-or-so of 'balancing' voices will be enough for the BBC to say the programme was 'duly impartial' - even though they are, obviously, not necessarily any such thing. 

(The addition of gloomy Rose Prince to the later iPlayer broadcast and even gloomier Angela Hartnett to the subsequent podcast have, therefore, only added to the doom-and-gloom-mongering side of the equation - not that that will stop the BBC from still advancing the same defence.)

And here's where I hand you over to David Keighley at News-watch who has provided a detailed critique of this edition of The Food Programme (and a full transcript). 

(You'll need to read it in full to get some striking background details on the contributors, including their links to the EU). 

He spotted something I failed to notice about the link to that 'balancing' bit (which, it must be repeated came after around 20 minutes of unrelieved gloom about the Brexit vote):
TIM LANG: Mr Gove, in an interview with the BBC, at one point said one of the things that he wanted to leave the European Union for was to open up trade with the rest of the world. So we can (fragment of word, or word unclear) in a throwaway remark he said, ‘We can get cheaper food from Africa’I thought Africa had a problem and it needed to feed itself? Is that option really moral and justified? I don’t think so. It’s a fantasy of free trade - very strange politics.
DAN SALADINOBut not strange to people who spent much of their lives working hard to take the UK out of the EU.
TIM WORSTALLMy name’s Tim Worstall, I’m a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London.
DAN SALADINO: Which is a free market think tank and Tim Worstall was having a good week. For him, Brexit is mission accomplished.
TIM WORSTALL: I have actually been writing about this and working towards it for the last two decades.  Wonderful.  Superb.  First decent decision made in 20 years.
DAN SALADINO: And among the arguments Tim has put forward for Brexit, either as a former speechwriter for Nigel Farage, or in his role at the Adam Smith Institute, many revolve around food.
David is quite right, isn't he, to observe that the only significant balancing voice, Tim Worstall, from the Adam Smith Institute think-tank, was introduced by Dan Saladino "as someone who did not think it morally wrong to take food from Africans"? 

David also suggests that by linking him to Nigel Farage and emphasising his "free market think tank" links, Dan was 'dog whistling' to the Radio 4 audience.

That's an important point. I've been following the Brexit debate over farming very closely and no leading Leave campaigner has been advocating getting rid of all subsidies for farmers. (They wouldn't dare). Tim W's position, however sound it may be (especially to people on this wing of the blogosphere), will sound extreme to many a Radio 4 listeners (either despite or because of him being, in Dan's words, "on a Skype line from his home in Portugal")....

....and, were they listening, it might also scare a lot of horses among Brexit-voted farmers who fervently want an independent British government to stand up for British farmers and subsidise them in accordance with our own needs rather than relying on the whim of the (presently-British-funded) EU-minded EU. 

Was Tim W an unwitting Trojan horse for the furtherance of a particularly extreme case of BBC bias here? Maybe I've been monitoring the BBC for too long but when he began talking about continental European farmers as "Georges or Jacques or Joaquim or somebody" I immediately thought, "Oh dear, that won't go down very well with Radio 4 listeners!". 

Whatever (in the non-Tony Blair sense of the word), this certainly was an extremely biased BBC Radio 4 programme. 

Anyone still doubting that should simply listen to it. 


  1. If they didn't mention Worstall worked for Farage, there would be Complaints From Both Sides. The problem here is typical BBC lack of consistency in 'health warnings'. For instance, Galloway on Question Time was not introduced as a former shill for Putin and the Mad Mullahs (or polite words to that effect). Vital context in which to consider his musings on the morality of invading Iraq and removing Sadaam, one would have thought. Ian Hislop didn't bother pointing it out either because they were both squeezing together on top of the same ivory high horse.

    Agreed about Lang making a personal value judgment and acting as if his opinion is fact.

  2. Dear Craig (and Sue)-

    I think your work is wonderful but we have now reached a position that we can be in no doubt the BBC's bias is not accidental or even is clearly systemic and deliberate.

    We also know that any complaint to the BBC, its progammers or OFCOM will be dismissed out of hand.

    I think in these circumstances you should turn yourselves into a campaigning outfit for BBC Democracy - so every licence fee payer has a vote to elect the Board of Management. If that came to pass, the BBC's output would change overnight. :)

    But simply complaining about output no longer seems to meet the needs of the people.

    1. We'll gladly support you if you launch your own blog to that end (with free publicity). And you can use any of our stuff to help you do so. Be warned though: It can be very time-consuming :)

    2. So want to hear that last sentence read out by Leonard Nimoy


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